Monday, February 12, 2007

Japan Probe Cries Foul over Mainichi Article on Gaijin Crime. Here Are Some Facts

Japan Probe has this interesting post on the discrepancy between the Japanese and English versions of a Mainichi article on gaijin crime in Japan. I thought of offering a full-fledged commentary about it, but I haven't been able to find the time to do justice to this theme. So, here are some facts, and some speculation on my part.

Lesson? Go to the source, then start arguing.

Some facts:

1. A cursory look at the news items under the article shows that the English version headlines typically carry less information than the Japanese version, but in no other case are they completely different. This is clearly an editorial decision. Moreover, the English, as most of you who post on Japan Probe must be aware, is executed by a native English speaker who is experienced in writing headlines.

2. The article deals with Criminal Code violations by non-permanent-resident gaijin. Thus, most of the Koreans and some Chinese (Taiwanese) living in Japan are not included, nor are visa violations. The statistics are available here.
They were posted on Feb. 9. No 1991-2006 comparison is included.

3. I cannot locate any useful statistics on the length of stay on the part of non-permanent-resident gaijin. This complicates the task of determining the relative criminality (or lack thereof) on their part.

4. The Japanese version seems to repeat the original hardcopy version with little or no abridgement.

Now, some speculation:

1. Governor Ishihara will not be vocal about gaijin crime. Mr. Ishihara is pushing Tokyo as Japan's candidate for the 2016 Olympics. He certainly knows how to mould his behavior to the circumstances. Witness the thawing of his relationship with the LDP as his sons rise up through the ranks there.

2. Mainichi correspondent Kazuhiko Tohyama did not have access to a high level official on this. There was no fanfare whatsoever regarding the release of the statistics (which must be why the Yomiuri apparently missed it altogether). Besides, nobody in his right mind at the NPA would want to piss off everybody outside of Tokyo by admitting that it managed to ease pressure in Tokyo by shifting the criminal burden to the boondocks. Moreover, most of the shift should be attributable instead to the "staggering" rise in the number of non-permanent-resident workers and "trainees" who flocked to manufacturing jobs non-Tokyo Japan during the 1990s. I'm not accusing Mr. Tohyama of making it up, but it doesn't sound like the kind of explanation the NPA would want to come up with.

(More Speculation)
Sorry. I don't have any sweeping indictments or excuses available, just some facts and speculation. Oh, and if it's any consolation to my gaijin readers, I don't think that this is racism, as in a deep-seated rejection of blacks, Muslims, Jews, or what have you. It's a very human example of stereotyping and over-reacting to the "other" in a highly homogeneous society. This works both ways: witness the powerfully positive emotional focus on the South Korean student Li Su-hyun and the relative neglect of Japanese cameraman Fumihiko Sekine, two courageous men who lost their lives trying to rescue a man who had fallen on the train track. On a more historical scale, do you remember how the Japanese media (except for Sankei) toed the Chinese Communist Party line during the Cultural Revolution? Adulation turned to odium, as the realities began to surface after Mao's death.


Durf said...

I'd be pretty shocked if all the English that goes into the daily rags was actually produced by native speakers. I don't doubt there are native editors on staff, but they aren't the editors—the ones who get to decide on the headlines for this stuff and make, y'know, editorial decisions.

Considering the amount of text that goes to the presses each day, I'd bet that these native editors get just about enough time to say "yep, the grammar on that is fine" and go on to the next one. Not much time to ponder the deeper human rights implications when you're on a daily deadline.

Jun Okumura said...

Thank you for coming, durf. My point of course is that I want to know the facts first. Accusations of racism should not be built on layers of assumptions.

Fact: The English in the Mainichi is of very high quality, considering that most of the original content comes in a very differently structured language. Compressing some articles and the headlines in particular requires at least a minimum of native-language editorial skills that go beyond the "yep, the grammar on that is fine" level. Fodder for Engrish.Com (a website which I enjoy, by the way, though I'm sure many Japanese, Koreans, and Chinese are offended by it) Mainichi is not. Mainichi even has this Waiwai page where… well, see for yourself. Ryann Connell, the native English speaker who is responsible for this page, has written a funny piece somewhere about having to read all these tabloids every day and decide which stories to write up. That's a lot of editorial discretion, no?

So durf, do you still not care to know who made what decision for what reason in that particular case, as well as how decisions in that part of the Mainichi media are being made in general? If not, then I don't know what to say to you.